The mainstream media gets it wrong again…after all I’ve written about spin, diversion, and just plain sloppy reporting on Fast and Furious, New York Times reporter Ginger Thompson lands on page A1 with a claim that DEA agents are ‘walking’ narco-dollars into Mexico and back to the cartels the same way ATF, we now know, has been ‘walking’ lethal, military-grade weapons across the US-Mexico border into the hands of cartel killers.
US Drug Agents Launder Profits for Mexican Cartels isn’t true or fair or even journalism.
What it is, instead, is public relations, a business that, unlike old-fashioned reporting, is safe, simple, and sure to enhance the bottomline for all concerned–corporate owners, editors, and reporters. PR is the new news, the art of pitching client-friendly narratives by pinning them to the general assumptions and limited fact set of the audience. The New York Times is not the first to go, nor will it be the last.
The point is–it’s working.
Thompson’s ‘revelations’ are reverberating through mediaville–even Fox News is dancing to her tune–and Congress, the House Oversight Committee, no less (which has done a reasonable job so far of keeping its eye on the ball) is tapping its toes as well, its spokespeople rushing to substantiate the NYT report via a pledge to include DEA’s money laundering tactics as a corollary to the investigation of Fast and Furious.
Mr. Chairman, please tell me it isn’t so.
Facts one might want to consider: Carlos Slim Helu, the Mexican billionaire seemingly bent on acquiring every media outlet Warren Buffet misses, has increased his share holdings in the New York Times three times in the last two months. His most recent purchase of NYT Company shares took place less than a week before Thompson’s front-page article hit the stands.
A staunch Calderon/PRI supporter and Forbes’ ‘richest man in the world,’ Slim, I’m guessing, is not displeased: not only does Thompson’s article reinforce the welcome (to DOJ) notion that Fast and Furious was a ‘botched operation’ (translation–inept and intrusive attempts by US law enforcement to wage ‘the war on drugs’ succeeded only in arming cartel militias), the piece also posits a direct correspondence between the tactics used by ATF in the ‘implementation’ of Fast and Furious and the tactics used by US enforcement agencies engaged in undercover money laundering investigations. Mistake.
Message from Mexico
Note to USA–lay off those Bozo ploys to make Mexico look bad and admit, already, that the drug violence, the corruption, the decapitations, mass graves, the muzzling, mutilation and murders of Mexican journalists, the 40,000 citizens gunned down (including US Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry slain on US soil) on both sides of the border–all of it is your fault.
What Thompson has served up is an easy and false comparison, an apology for policies Mexico continues to endorse as alternatives to what it likes to call an ‘unsuccessful war on drugs,’ a slick argument that engages a lot of well-meaning citizens in this country, and that, thanks to reports like Thompson’s and the endorsement of such eminent vehicles as the New York Times, seem to be gaining purchase.
But superficial claims and specious comparisons deserve closer reading than Ginger Thompson provides, because the NYT article that ran December 4th, its subtext and its aim, is not to explain, but to persuade, to sell us—lock, stock and barrel—on a policy shift of someone else’s making that works to someone else’s advantage.
There is, you see, another view, a close-hold perspective that mostly belongs to the men and women who work in law enforcement—that it is not the law that’s failing the citizens of this country and of many others, but the people who determine the ways and extent to which our laws are enforced: politicians, political appointees and bureaucrats whose take on who’s right and who’s wrong–who should be investigated and who should not–is in too many instances determined by political expedience and self-interest.
Let’s call it a case of conflicting priorities–not a new problem, right?
Politics versus the law
So, Ginger Thompson and the New York Times do us a disservice, not just because they play to our concern for the 40,000 men, women and children already lost to political corruption and criminal greed, but because they portray the commitment of the American people to the rule of law as naïve, misplaced, and unattainable.
Indeed, what the reporter suggests (Is this her aim or just bad research?) is that US law enforcement has proved it is unable to make a difference, that federal agents are bunglers or miscreants, and that, if we aren’t careful, the ‘good guys’ sent in to solve the problem may instead become the worst part of it.
Back up, Ginger.
Let’s consider the parallel drawn between DEA’s money laundering tactics and Fast and Furious: the latter, a ‘secret’ ATF operation under investigation by two House Committees and the Senate Judiciary Committee belongs to Eric Holder’s Department of Justice—Holder will be back testifying before Issa-Grassley investigators again this week about ATF’s ‘withdrawal’ of a February 4th letter his office sent to Congress disavowing any ‘gun walking’ on the part of ATF, a letter Holder now says contained ‘inaccuracies.’
Fast and Furious not a by-the-book operation
ATF’s Operation Fast and Furious facilitated the illegal sale and cross-border trafficking of more than 2000 lethal, military-grade weapons to Mexican cartels—an AK-47 used to gun down Brian Terry, a US Border Patrol Agent, on US soil has been identified as one of the weapons ATF allowed ‘to walk.’
The existence of Operation Fast and Furious only came to light via the testimony of ATF Agent John Dodson, a whistleblower who questioned the seeming lack of an operational rationale for the undertaking, and for whom Terry’s death was the final straw—as Dodson told Congress, ‘We were killing our own guys.”
Dodson testified that, contrary to prior ATF protocol, in the case of Fast and Furious, there was no plan in place at any time to trace the weapons ATF agents pressured US gun dealers to sell to ‘straw buyers,’ nor were there plans in place to interdict the weapons before they went missing in Mexico.
The weapons, whose serial numbers ATF did record in its eTrace database (imagine), would only be recovered after they had been used to commit a crime (generally a homicide), and Mexican authorities returned them to ATF for short ‘time to crime’ identification as weapons purchased illegally in the US.
ATF’s part in the sale and smuggling of these weapons would never be mentioned—that part of the plan was, in fact, in place from the beginning.
The Department of Justice and administration spokespeople continue to characterize Fast and Furious as a ‘botched operation,’—a description the NYT reiterates and for which Eric Holder is most grateful.
Whether Fast and Furious was, in fact, a ‘botched operation’ (whoops, just an ‘accident’), or a deliberate attempt (inspired by anti-gun ideologues) to use a federal law enforcement agency to supply evidence in support of Mexico’s allegation that the violence in its streets has been fueled by the criminal actions of US arms dealers is, of course, the question that could set the Department of Justice and the administration on its ear.
While this kind of upset might be exactly what justice demands, beating the administration bushes for bigger game could boomerang, throwing a wrench into the best-laid plans of both parties to beat the opposition in 2012.
Don’t think this kind of conversation isn’t happening on Capitol Hill.
Politics versus the law
As a result, we have right now a bi-partisan chorus bleating for Eric Holder’s resignation, a move that might offer consolation (some hope) to the family of Brian Terry while at the same time preempting the need for a genuine investigation into a federal law enforcement operation in which administration actors, according to Representative Connie Mack (R-Fla), have almost certainly violated US law (the Arms Export Control Act) and made themselves vulnerable to criminal indictments and serious prison sentences—think Iran Contra.
Let me tell you what the New York Times doesn’t explain—the difference between a legitimate, ground-up, approved, supervised and outcome-driven undercover money laundering investigation and a top-down, unapproved, unsupervised and aimless ‘gun tracking’ investigation (linked to the murder of a US agent) no one in Washington, DC seems to have known existed before they heard about it ‘in the press.’
A legitimate undercover investigation belonging to any enforcement agency doesn’t just happen: its proponents typically jump through a series of hoops designed to guarantee that the ‘good guys’ remain at all times on the right side of the law. If they don’t, they go to jail. No passing go.
DEA and US Customs, formerly an agency belonging to the US Department of the Treasury, have been in the money laundering investigation business for a long time: today, DEA, under the aegis of Justice, and ICE, now a part of DHS, retain jurisdiction for money laundering investigations.
Here’s now it generally works, regardless of which agency is involved: an idea is born, usually out of real-time and real-world encounters with a criminal enterprise in a certain district or region (money laundering—LA, Miami, Houston, etc).
The enforcement architects of a counter-plan, an investigation designed to eliminate the criminal threat, take a proposal to a district or regional director (the Special-Agent-in-Charge, for example).
If they get a green light, the plan goes to the next level—to Headquarters. Again, the plan’s supporters lobby for sign-off, and if HQ approves the plan, the request goes to the Bureau, to Homeland Security, or to Justice, for example, where it is scrutinized, criticized, and torn apart by an assembly of bureaucrats and high-ups—department directors, assistant secretaries, and the heads of relevant organizations (Holder, Napolitano, and such).
If the plan makes it through this obstacle course, it proceeds to a Joint Undercover Investigation Committee in DC, a panel of representatives from each and every agency that might have a dog in the fight. If ATF had brought the plans for Fast and Furious, for example, to this committee, DOJ and ATF officials would no doubt have been grilled by reps from ICE/DHS, the FBI, State, deputy US attorneys from relevant districts, and perhaps DOD. The list of players is flexible.
Armed with a detailed presentation, the architects of Fast and Furious would have had to reassure departments and agencies with shared interests and overlapping jurisdictions that the plan was legal, workable, well-planned, well-managed, and larded with deadline-driven, concrete objectives and measurable outcomes.
If the Joint Committee gives the plan a go, the team of agents who ‘own’ the operation begin implementation, but that’s not the end. Every few months, the team has to go back to the oversight committee for subsequent reviews and authorization.
There is a rigorous uniform structure, a recertification process rooted in codified law and statutory authority, which makes it impossible for any agency or group of agents to abandon the reservation or to act without the knowledge of their superiors and the approval of agency, bureau and department heads.
We know, from congressional testimony, that this isn’t the way Fast and Furious evolved. So how is it that an undertaking which never passed through Committee review, and whose executors never applied for recertification, managed to stay up-and-running long enough to send thousands of weapons, illegally, across the US border?
How could this happen without top-down guidance and support?
But that’s not all. Trafficking weapons across the US-Mexico border, even as part of a federal undercover investigation, requires exemptions to the Arms Export Control Act, waivers which would most logically be requested by ICE (the agency with jurisdiction for this type of investigation) or by DOJ from State (which issues the waivers).
But both Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, and Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State, have told Congress they were never briefed in regard to the existence or operational status of Fast and Furious.
What does this suggest? DHS knows nothing. State knows nothing. Congress, which the law says must be informed of any operational decision to traffic weapons valued in excess of $1 million, knows nothing.
But ATF agents in the field were told by superiors that orders to ‘stand down’–not to interdict–came from ‘the top.’
Think about it.
Then consider the DEA operations that Thompson attempts to explain in her NYT article.
DEA–sheep, not wolves
DEA undercover money laundering investigations are by-the-book stings duly authorized to trace narco-dollars back to their ultimate beneficiaries–or, in the case of ‘system-based’ money laundering investigations (which, given their efficacy, DOJ presently does not permit DEA to implement)–to identify and dismantle the infrastructure on which the criminal enterprise depends.
DEA agents jump through all the hoops, and believe me, Justice knows how to crack the whip.
Unlike Fast and Furious, which critics suggest was triggered, as opposed to impeded, by politics, money laundering and other undercover investigations can be aborted on short notice when they run counter to political or trade agendas too ‘strategically vital’ to disturb.
In other words,the political ‘overseers’ for undercover money laundering investigations (in the case of DEA, that’s the Attorney General of the United States, who take his counsel from the President) can pull the plug if an investigation ‘gets too hot’ politically and threatens the relationship between the US or the current US administration and a geopolitical ally.
The US is in the business of protecting its relationships with allies, especially Mexico, our 2nd largest trading partner, not jeopardizing those relationships.
If DEA’s money laundering operations are on the up-and-up (and the strings DOJ imposes on the DEA ops, the $10 million limit on money laundered, the $500k limit on individual pickups, the six-month time limit, guarantee Holder’s office never drops the operational or political reins, so you can trust me on this) then Thompson’s theory about US agents laundering narco-dollars for cartel thugs is a so-what revelation.
The truth is that DOJ policy (and DEA is part of Justice) regarding the implementation of undercover money laundering investigations is so stringent that DEA’s efforts in this area are virtually meaningless, ‘baby operations’ capable of generating occasional headlines about US efforts to curb cartel money laundering (similar to the empty ‘drug tunnel’ stories that periodically surface).
Thompson’s article references a DEA agent who describes the dilemma when he asks what an agent is supposed to do when a trafficker approaches an undercover agent with a request to launder more money than the agent is authorized to handle.
“You have to do it,” says the DEA spokesperson.”Or they kill you.”
It sounds dramatic, but such are the (rare, given DOJ’s orchestration) operational conundrums faced by DEA agents tasked with ‘laundering’ criminal money. Sure, there may be unappreciated exceptions to the cap on funds if an agent is staring death in the face, but DEA, given its current rules and regulations, runs money laundering ops deliberately designed to net mid-level traffickers, relatively small fish that ensure continuing congressional appropriations at budget time and decent press. Nothing more.
Ginger’s molehill-into-a-mountain narrative misses the mark.
Interestingly enough, the NYT reporter does allude to a Customs money laundering operation in play from 1995 to 1998, suggesting it was a watershed event in the history of federal money laundering investigations, and, in this case, she’s got it right.
But not for the reasons she thinks.
The laundering operations that the United States conducts elsewhere — about 50 so-called Attorney General Exempt Operations are under way around the world — had been forbidden in Mexico after American customs agents conducted a cross-border sting without notifying Mexican authorities in 1998, which was how most American undercover work was conducted there up to that point.
What Thompson doesn’t seem to understand is that this particular Customs (not DEA) investigation, tagged Operation Casablanca, stands to this day as a perfect example of the way politics has and continues to undermine the effective enforcement of US law, and the ways in which the advocates of realpolitik try to shield the public from this fact.
Casablanca was a huge success (which insiders say accounted for its early demise), and one reason was that money laundering policies within Treasury did not limit the amount agents could accept or launder to $10 million or less. Customs agents running Casablanca could accept up to $100 million, with long and renewable timelines, policies to which DOJ objected from the beginning.
Unanticipated victory ends effective undercover ops into cartel money laundering
Here’s some background: Customs’ Operation Casablanca was a response to the misuse of Mexican bank drafts. Money launderers linked to the Juarez cartel were using Mexico’s banking system to clean up their drug dollars. The operation itself represented five years of work, two years of bureaucratic infighting (with DOJ trying to impose its own restrictive policies, $10 million limits, etc. on Treasury/Customs), and three years devoted to actual implementation.
Undercover agents first ingratiated themselves to black-market brokers based in Cali; these were guys who worked for roughly 20 percent of the 60 percent the Colombians retrieved after the laundering process was over (40 percent stays with the Mexicans). The brokers, who tried to move at least $1 million per day, managed smuggling and laundering for the Cali and Medellin cartels, using organized crime syndicates in Mexico to do the heavy lifting.
At this point, in the mid-90s, the Mexicans were still only intermediary players, but they were moving up fast, building powerful infrastructure in LA, Chicago, Houston, Miami and NYC, alliances still going strong today.
Here’s how the Mexican bank draft worked, a process Thompson alludes to in her NYT article: before Customs penetrated the operation via Operation Casablanca, traffickers were smuggling bags of dirty money across the SW border any way they could, and smuggling bulk cash is a bad proposition—the weakest point in the process.
Once the drug money reached Mexico, eager Mexican bankers stood willing and able to take millions in narco-dollars (as US bankers do today) and deposit them into any kind of account, shell company, corporation or devise any kind of financial construct that might hide the origin of these criminal deposits.
What the Cali and Medellin cartels didn’t know was that the new best friends of the brokers they employed in Colombia were really undercover agents working for US Customs, and that when these agents volunteered to collect the drug dollars right off the streets in LA and other US cities, deposit it into their own ‘special’ accounts in the US (eliminating the need for smuggling bulk cash), and then transfer the funds electronically to bankers in Mexico, it was the beginning of the end.
After US agents wired cartel funds to banks to Mexico, bank drafts drawn on the US accounts of those Mexican banks were delivered back to the same undercover agents in the United States, who made copies of the drafts as evidence before sending the funds out across the world again.
When the money traveled, during this final laundering cycle, to accounts in Colombia, it was available to the cartels in pesos. When it went to the Caribbean, to Europe, to Asia, it materialized in any form and in any currency the cartels and their brokers specified.
When Operation Casablanca concluded in 1998, Customs had evidence that every bank in Mexico and several financial institutions in Venezuela were actively competing for cartel business, for billions in drug dollars.
Agents had over 3000 hours of videotape documenting criminal activity in LA, Miami, New York, Chicago, Italy, Venezuela and Mexico. All that was left was to make the arrests and seize the money, simultaneously if possible, to prevent the suspects from fleeing and the evidence from disappearing.
The take-down plan was implemented over a three-day period in LA, Chicago, New York, San Diego, Las Vegas, Milan, Aruba and Bogota. More than 200 agents from Customs and partner agencies were in place on four different continents, waiting to make the arrests and seize the cash. In every location, meetings were scheduled between undercover agents and the bankers, brokers and traffickers who had engineered the Mexican bank draft scheme.
In the end, Customs agents running the operation had evidence implicating every Mexican bank operating in that country at that time, 16 total, in the money laundering scheme. 193 suspects were under arrest for money laundering, conspiracy and other criminal violations. Agents seized more than $100 million in cash during its ‘seize and freeze’ campaign; the Federal Reserve issued cease and desist orders for 6 Mexican banks, and three of these banks were indicted and convicted.
Why only three?
Yes, there is a backstory here. Pay attention, NYT.
Six months into this particular undercover operation, the team running the investigation out of LA started to feel pushback from Washington, especially from the Department of Justice, which had battled to take control of the operation or at least to persuade Treasury to impose restrictions similar to its own on the Customs money laundering investigation.
As the evidence started piling up, as the list of suspects grew, and the number of Mexican banks possibly involved in the criminal scheme increased, so did the ‘noise’ coming down Pennsylvania Avenue.
During periodic reviews–those rigorous recertification reviews that ATF’s Fast and Furious somehow circumvented–the joint undercover team challenged the ability of the Casablanca team to acquire enough evidence to indict more than a few Mexican banks.
There was also concern about the amount the team was laundering (note: the cartels were paying the undercover team a 12 percent commission on the dollars laundered which went back onto the US government’s books).
And then, of course, there were questions about whether the undercover team had fully briefed our Mexican counterparts.
The answer, despite a NYT report by Tim Golden published (again, the New York Times)soon after the operation shut down, was ‘yes.’
Customs insiders confirm that an agent leading the operation traveled to Mexico City to brief the US Ambassador, and he also visited, per the instruction of the US Ambassador, Mexico’s Hacienda to brief the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General for Enforcement.
The Mexican official, according to law enforcement sources, had only one question: How can we help?
The Customs undercover team told the Attorney General of Mexico that they would let them know as the operation drew to a close.
At one point in the operation, during the summer of 1996, the pressure to close the effort down (administration appointees continued to dog the investigation) led to a meeting with Robert Rubin, Secretary of the Treasury.
Rubin, who had been advised to join in the call to terminate Casablanca, listened to the team leader outline the operational successes to date, and suddenly he was onboard. Enthusiastic. And determined to protect the operation from outside and inside interference.
According to the agent tasked with briefing the Treasury Secretary about the operation, Rubin asked how many Mexican banks appeared to be implicated in the money laundering scheme. When the reply was “All of them,” the Treasury Secretary’s response was “We’ll end this when we put the last Mexican involved in the paddy wagon!”
More telling, says the Customs operation leader, was Rubin’s follow-up orders to the people in his office that day: “I don’t want anything said here today shared with anyone outside the group in this office now. Not with the White House, not with the National Security advisor, not with the Drug Czar’s office and not with State.”
Now, I may be wrong, but it sounds a lot like Rubin was concerned about avoiding political ambushes. What do you think?
As Casablanca drew to a close, however, in 1998, word of its operational details were in fact leaked to the White House, as was the startling information that undercover agents running the op from LA had been approached by a Mexican banker and a Juarez cartel representative who told the agents he needed $1.15 billion dollars belonging to a high-place Mexican official laundered as well.
That official, said the cartel’s man, was Enrique Cervantes, Mexico’s Minister of Defense.
When undercover agents sent that information back to higher-ups in Washington, the game was over.
While the evidence implicating all 16 Mexican banks was identical to the evidence that resulted in the indictment of the three targeted by the US Attorney’s office (Bancomer, which was shortly thereafter acquired by Citicorp for 12.5b; Banomex, and Banco Serfin), the US Attorney and Department of Justice officials declined to prosecute the remaining 13 banks.
The undercover team was told to step away from any request to launder funds belonging to a member of the Mexican Cabinet, and the allegation that a cartel rep had even made such a request was soon discounted, pushed into the background, and forgotten.
One senior law enforcement official told reporters that the cartel rep had probably been ‘puffing,’ or exaggerating. The fact is, say skeptics, that the administration never tried, or wanted to test that theory: Casablanca was shut down before agents had a chance to transform an allegation into concrete evidence.
President Zedillo, tipped off to the allegations implicating his Cabinet, claimed the Mexican government had never been briefed on Casablanca, that Customs agents had violated Mexico’s sovereignty, and demanded that the agent in charge of the operation be extradited to Mexico for prosecution (an eventuality prevented only by a special act of the US Congress).
The Clinton administration, in an effort to placate our Nafta-partner, sent Attorney General Janet Reno to Texas where she met with her Mexican counterpart to sign what has become known as ‘the Brownsville Agreement,’ a document that prohibits the US from opening an undercover investigation into any enterprise involving Mexico without fully briefing the Mexican government in advance.
The upshot, of course, is that advance briefings offer Mexican officials who may be involved in any criminal or corrupt enterprise the opportunity to elude investigators when the operation finally gets underway.
There are a number of principals who were close to Casablanca and the blowback it provoked who will tell you that the Customs operation was one of the last real opportunities this country had, not just to follow the money to its headwaters in Mexico, but also to dismantle the global infrastructure used by organized crime in Mexico and elsewhere to launder billions in criminal proceeds from every kind of underworld enterprise.
Unlike current DEA money laundering investigations, which simply attempt to follow dirty money backwards to its source, Casablanca was ‘system-based,’ meaning it targeted the Colombian brokers who acted as trafficking/laundering ’roundabouts’ or hubs for the Cali cartel, and who, as a result, could lead agents deep into the complex infrastructure that made the process possible.The idea is that destroying actors without dissembling the infrastructure is ineffective.
Enforcement insiders will tell you as well that it was politics that trumped law enforcement in the case of Casablanca, that neither the US administration nor the Department of Justice (which critics claim was then, as now, a political handmaiden to the Executive) was ever willing ‘to go the distance’ with this particular money laundering investigation.
They will also tell you that after the transfer of Customs from Treasury to Homeland Security, DOJ’s restrictive policies, which replaced the rules governing Casablanca, have rendered money laundering investigations by DEA and other agencies ineffective in the genuine pursuit of high-level targets and infrastructure.
Here’s a tip for the mainstream press: Congress should be asking DOJ why DEA’s money laundering investigations produce so little in the way of outcome. In fact, Issa should be asking DOJ how we can expect US law enforcement to uphold the law when the Attorney General has a chokehold on the agents who want to do it.
So, Ms. Thompson, are we straight on this?
Bad news: US Agents Launder Profits for Mexican Cartels is great PR but not much in the way of investigative journalism. The comparison between the operational tactics used in Fast and Furious and the tactics used today by DEA (not the wolves you warn us about, but sheep…) doesn’t hold up.
Good news: as a diversionary tactic, especially since Holder meets with the Oversight Committee tomorrow about Fast and Furious, it’s working. Good job. We can only hope that investigators (with prodding from Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla) keep their eyes fixed on the real–and the real big–crime underlying Fast and Furious, multiple violations of the Arms Export Control Act.
Breaking news: The New York Times, one of America’s most venerable and respected newspapers, has published a front page article designed to convince readers that US law enforcement is aiding Mexico’s cartels in their drug-driven campaign of corruption and violence.
Why would a paper as influential as the New York Times blunder into this kind of haphazard reportage?
Let’s get this story straight.
The day DEA becomes “the world’s largest money launderer” is the day the Office of the Attorney General becomes an elective office and the AG answers directly to the people of the United States.
Truth? The facts in Thompson’s report are skewed, the sources selected to support a pro-Mexico (and pro-Mexico is pro-NAFTA), anti-law-enforcement perspective, and the processes outlined by the Times reporter are sketchy and misleading.
The reason DEA’s investigations into cartel money laundering have, as Thompson notes, yielded so little ($1 billion out of a reported $39 billion per year) is because DOJ and the US administration have ordained it–by imposing restrictions on DEA money laundering investigations that make it unlikely any big fish will ever get caught in a US enforcement net again. No more Casablancas.
In spite of this, Thompson’s message is traveling fast, distracting the public and Congress from the hunt for the primary architects of Fast and Furious, a DOJ undercover investigation that more and more members of Congress are saying may have been triggered, like Iran Contra, by the ideological fervor of political appointees at the highest levels of the US government.